The Desolate Garden was a work of fiction, or was it?
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan ordered the commencement of a NATO exercise named Able Archer ’83. Nothing unusual in that as each year NATO stretches its muscles with shows of strength.
1983 differed considerably. Prior to the exercise, a cordon of submarine beacons had been laid in the North Sea from Newfoundland to Iceland and from Scotland to Norway. US Naval task forces had increased in the Pacific and all of the UK and French nuclear missile carrying submarines had put to sea.
NATO aircrafts were flying to the limit of USSR radar installations, marking them then turning back at the last minute before entering Russian airspace. None of this was reported in the civilian press. As a precursor to a First Strike scenario the Politburo knew that radio traffic between the US and the UK would escalate; this it did and using a code not previously used, which was indecipherable to the Soviets.
Unlike the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the last time the world was on the brink of war, now it was the Russians being threatened not the West. To make matters worse for the USSR their early warning missile satellite, code name OKA had malfunctioned and was decommissioned awaiting repair. NATO’s readiness had been moved up to its most critical; DEFCON ONE, so when on the night of the 26th September a single ICBM leaving a silo in Nebraska was sighted by ground radar commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov he could have well pressed the button alerting his senior officers up the chain. But he did not. Nor did he panic when half an hour or so later three more ICBM’s were detected leaving the USA.
Within 16 hours Able Archer ’83 had run its course and Russian troops, air bases, naval forces and nuclear weapon ground control units were stood down. This was the closest the world came to imploding and it was saved by this man Stanislav Petrov who died last May aged 77.
Apart from the names all this, and more was told in The Desolate Garden.
May I introduce Stanislav Petrov: